Don’t Get Burned by Heartbleed

Don't Get Burned by Heartbleed

Now, before everyone panics, our Server Admin has assured me that our servers are patched and we’re no longer vulnerable to this bug. We’re fairly certain that this exploit wasn’t used against us but if you are worried, you can and should change your passwords.

Just a few days ago, a new bug was published that impacts OpenSSL — one of the most common methods used to encrypt web traffic (passwords, usernames, etc). This vulnerability allowed people to scan a server’s memory (where the most sensitive information is stored) and scrape it. It also allowed hackers to get access to digital keys so that they could easily set up dummy servers with the same private keys as legitimate business servers and trick people into supplying sensitive financial information. This vulnerability affects a lot of websites (OpenSSL is extremely common). C|Net has a very helpful tool up in their news article about Heartbleed that will let you check to see if any particular site you use is affected.

The best thing to do now is to run a quick check on sites you’ve used recently that have log-ins and see if they are vulnerable. If they are listed as safe, then go to them and change your password. Do that until you’ve changed every password you use. Also, if a site allows for double-token authentication (you enter your password and then a code is texted to your phone or you have a authenticator dongle or app that generates a one-time use code on the spot), start using that. Second-stage authentication routines are a bit harder to hack and can deter people looking for an easy target.

Wrapping Up the Week

Wrapping Up the Week

It’s been another busy week in the world of technology and gadgetry. The top story of the week has been Heartbleed. Our systems administrator assures me that our servers have all been patched and are no longer suffering from this vulnerability. If you’re curious as to whether any website you’re using does still suffer from it, you can check out to see if they do. Also big in the news this week have been several patent reform efforts and copyright reform efforts. People are finally getting tired of not only the NSA listening in on everything but of a bunch of California companies trying to make them pay every time they hum a few notes.

All of these stories and more were covered on our Twitter feed this week. However, if you’re not following us on Twitter then we’ll recap the top stories from this week for you below.

That’s all for this week, folks. Have a great weekend and see you again next week.

Wednesday Recipes: Side Dish Edition

Wednesday Recipes: Side Dish Edition

A few major holidays are coming up right around the bend: there’s Passover and Easter. While everyone is no doubt wondering how best to prepare the main dishes for their big holiday meal, we thought we’d zig where others are zagging and offer up a couple of quick, simple, but delicious side dishes that can make the holiday much more enjoyable (plus, it gives you something to do with any Easter eggs you might have laying about).

Classic Deviled Eggs

6 eggs
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1 teaspoon white vinegar
1 teaspoon yellow mustard
1/8 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Smoked Spanish paprika, for garnish

Place eggs in a single layer in a saucepan and cover with enough water that there’s 1 1/2 inches of water above the eggs. Heat on high until water begins to boil, then cover, turn the heat to low, and cook for 1 minute. Remove from heat and leave covered for 14 minutes, then rinse under cold water continuously for 1 minute. Crack egg shells and carefully peel under cool running water. Gently dry with paper towels. Slice the eggs in half lengthwise, removing yolks to a medium bowl, and placing the whites on a serving platter. Mash the yolks into a fine crumble using a fork. Add mayonnaise, vinegar, mustard, salt, and pepper, and mix well. Evenly disperse heaping teaspoons of the yolk mixture into the egg whites. Sprinkle with paprika and serve.

Southern Potato Salad

4 potatoes
4 eggs
1/2 stalk celery, chopped
1/4 cup sweet relish
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tablespoons prepared mustard
1/2 cup mayonnaise
Salt and pepper to taste

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add potatoes and cook until tender but still firm, about 15 minutes; drain and chop. Place eggs in a saucepan and cover with cold water. Bring water to a boil; cover, remove from heat, and let eggs stand in hot water for 10 to 12 minutes. Remove from hot water; peel and chop. In a large bowl, combine the potatoes, eggs, celery, sweet relish, garlic, mustard, mayonnaise and salt and pepper. Gently mix together and serve warm.

Should military robotics research be banned?

Should military robotics research be banned?

Reading this article on Ars Technia got me to thinking about a story I heard on how the military is working to develop “human out of the loop” robotic systems for use in warfare. I remember hearing about things like the Land Warrior project where the goal was to use equipment to integrate small arms with high-tech equipment, allow for greater communication and command and control with individual soldiers, and to allow the individual soldier to be seen as an individual instead of as part of a larger unit. The military has also been interested in developing exo-skeleton type robots to allow for faster and more efficient loading and unloading of heavy equipment and, if they could get the motors and servos to be quiet enough, could allow infantry soldiers to carry more equipment into the field.

The idea of having a completely robotic soldier, however, is something that has been a staple of science fiction for forever but is now within reach of reality. With robotic infantry and aerial drones, the military would no longer have to worry much about human casualties on the scale they currently face. This leads some people — such as the person I heard on the radio — to want to ban such research and development for fear that it would make war more likely since the human cost would not be as great. Such people, though, are ignoring the fact that the military has been one of the great drivers of technological innovation since humans were living in caves and wielding spears and slings.

In recent years, we like to believe that the biggest driver of technological innovation has been the civilian or consumer market. This is a very short-sighted view. The Internet is based on the ARPANet which was a last-line communications relay in the event of all-out nuclear war. GPS units were developed and launched by the military so that they could maneuver in unfriendly territory and could keep track of exactly where their units were. Many of our modern sewage and water treatment systems come from the military as well since, for most of our history, more soldiers died from diseases spread by their brothers-in-arms than died from enemy attack.

To completely ban the military from researching robotics that could have tactical uses in warfare would deprive us of having the fruits of their research enter the civilian realm later on. Imagine life without GPS, without the Internet, without modern sewage systems, and without roads — roadways being an invention of the Romans to allow them to move their armies quickly and easily. All of these things came from a military and were later open to civilian use. A robotic soldier that could act independently, make decisions based on incomplete information, and could move across a wide range of terrain is a robot who could later be programmed to work in a nuclear reactor, to bury hazardous waste, or to pilot ships in deep space or in the depths of Earth’s oceans.

Could these non-military uses be developed without the military? Quite possibly. However, the military is and has been one of the institutions that is always concerned with looking at the long term picture. Corporations, private industry, investors, and consumers are frequently much more short-sighted and want a quicker return on their investments than something that might pay off in a century or so. Additionally, even if these robots were developed by the civilian sector, laws and regulations forbidding military uses could inhibit the civilian sector. After all, a robot who can be used perform surgery is a robot who can, with only a few tweaks, be used as an assassin. Aerial drones who can fly over fields to deliver fertilizers or pesticides can quite easily be used to deliver poison gas instead. Any tool can be used as a weapon so laws or regulations would need to be narrowly and carefully drafted lest we ban all robotic development — which could, indeed, be the desire of some of the more Luddite-inclined among us.

What do you think? Are there any specific robotic tasks you would ban? Why or why not?

Fully Immersive Entertainment Around the Bend?

Fully Immersive Entertainment Around the Bend?

Over the past few weeks, there have been a lot of announcements about different entertainment mediums. The PS4 and XBox One are still selling well and making headlines as more games — classic and new — are added to their networks. Every new generation of gaming gear brings us better graphics, faster action, better sound, more choices, deeper games, greater vistas for exploration, and a real exploration of gaming as a medium for storytelling. Likewise, every new generation of television brings us brighter closers, sharper borders, better sound, more detail. 3DTVs might not be panning out as well as was hoped but there still is a deep desire for a completely immersive entertainment environment where an individual could interact fully with the world unrolled around them. Facebook’s purchase of Oculus Rift might be a step in that direction.

But, more than just the immersion is desired in entertainment today. Consumers often want not to just be passive viewers but to take on an active role in the entertainment culture. That’s why things like Netflix’s model and new studio system along with Amazon’s Originals have captivated so many people. Indie gaming is becoming one of the fastest growing parts of the entertainment economy. Musicians of all kinds are interacting directly with their fans via sites like Patreon and Kickstarter, not to mention over social media. Artists can post and sell much of their artwork online and authors are finally free of the shackles of the self-appointed gatekeepers to the publishing industry.

I am also beginning to wonder how long the standards boards (NTSC and PAL — the methods that decide the color/hue saturation and refresh rate for TV screens) will have complete control over their formats. Part of the problem with HD and 3D television is that it requires a lot more bandwidth to broadcast as well as a whole new system of shooting the scenes. However, with more people tinkering in entertainment, chances are that someone will develop something that would do the trick nicely but might break down if forced to format into NTSC or PAL. Also, how much longer will DVD regions hold out? There is no real reason why a DVD purchased in Europe can’t be run on a DVD player in the United States.

So, what do you think? Do you think the democratization of entertainment culture and media is a good thing? Are you looking forward to participating in it by trying your hand at content creation? Let us know in the comments below!

Wrapping Up the Week

Wrapping Up the Week

Another Friday brings us to the end of another week of lawsuits, litigation, and legal action in the world of technology. Apple and Samsung are going at it again in what seems to be an endless battle in the patent war. The UK has finally decided to legally permit its citizens to rip and back up their own CDs and the NSA is still spying on all and sundry. Apple is getting sued over eBook price fixing and Google is being taken to court over conspiring with a lot of other big tech firms to keep wages artificially low. But these stories are only the tip of the iceberg. If you were following us on Twitter then you would have seen them and much, much more.

Don’t worry, though. We’ll hit the highlights from this past week for you below!

That’s all for this week. Have a great weekend and see you again next week.

Wednesday Recipes: Baked Fish Edition

Wednesday Recipes: Baked Fish Edition

Easter is coming soon and for those of you who have given up meat for Lent, we have a couple of new fish dishes for you to try out to add some variety to your Lenten meal plans. These recipes are not only quick to make and easy — even I can cook these dishes — they also clean up well and are healthy for people of all ages!

Easy Fish Recipe

3 tablespoons honey
3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon lemon juice
4 (6 ounce) salmon steaks

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F (165 degrees C). In a small bowl, mix honey, mustard, and lemon juice. Spread the mixture over the salmon steaks. Season with pepper. Arrange in a medium baking dish. Bake 20 minutes in the preheated oven, or until fish easily flakes with a fork.

Baked Salmon II

2 cloves garlic, minced
6 tablespoons light olive oil
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon fresh parsley, chopped
2 (6 ounce) fillets salmon

In a medium glass bowl, prepare marinade by mixing garlic, light olive oil, basil, salt, pepper, lemon juice and parsley. Place salmon fillets in a medium glass baking dish, and cover with the marinade. Marinate in the refrigerator about 1 hour, turning occasionally. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Place fillets in aluminum foil, cover with marinade, and seal. Place sealed salmon in the glass dish, and bake 35 to 45 minutes, until easily flaked with a fork.

Copyright Claims Getting Even More Insane

Copyright Claims Getting Even More Insane

In August of 2012, those of us who wanted to replay the footage from NASA from the freshly landed Martian probe and rover Curiosity were greeted with a YouTube blocked video image in place of the footage NASA’s JPL had uploaded from the Mission Control room and from the rover itself. Either YouTube’s ContentID system or some overzealous intern at Scripps had decided that NASA’s own footage of the event belonged to a private source who held the copyright on it instead of it being a public domain work since it was filmed and uploaded by a government agency. In the past few years, just about everyone with a computer has seen the copyright takedown screen. Almost anyone who’s been on the Internet for very long has at least heard about the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) and its absolutely off-the-scale penalties (apparently filesharing is more dangerous than murder based on the fines levied and the prison sentences often handed down).

However, while Scripps and Google can hide behind the NASA Scripps takedown being a “rare exception,” when the same thing starts to happen to the House of Representatives, things start getting a bit more dicey. Telemundo (owned by NBCUniversal) and Univision either directly or via ContentID had the House of Representative’s Appropriations Committee’s video taken down on the claim of copyright infringement.

When your entire business model requires you keeping Congress happy (and oblivious to the real disaster your policies cause), the last thing you want to do is mock them in their own homes. Constituents and technogeeks have already been complaining loudly about the insane damages and jail sentences levied at digital pirates. Countless attempts to compromise and provide Internet users the chance to pay for entertainment without having to constantly re-purchase the content or having it crippled by DRM (which, in some cases, leaves the user’s computer crippled due to poor coding or rootkits). The MPAA, RIAA, and broadcasters have been dragged kicking and screaming into the extremely profitable digital era. Copyright Math has become a subject of great mockery and comedy and books like Year Zero really explain just how out of touch many law firms, media companies, and studios really are (only in entertainment would a person who paid full price to see something be considered a thief). But these complaints and actions haven’t quite gotten it through Congress’s collective head just how burdensome the laws they write on behalf of Hollywood are.

Still, taking down one of their own videos — one that wasn’t even that important — will probably hammer home what their voters have been complaining about. Suddenly cord cutter complaining about how he can’t watch television without purchasing an expensive cable or satellite plan when all he wants is to watch a single show that was available on Netflix or iTunes will start getting more traction when Representatives find their own promotional or day-in-the-life videos yanked down by news agencies. Politicians might also stop farming their news stories out to the big three (or five if you include FOX and CNN) and start giving bloggers greater access. And, eventually, the media agencies will upset someone bigger than them and with deep enough pockets to take the case all the way to the Supreme Court or to start lobbying Congress themselves until the media agencies are no longer the sole voice listened to when it comes to entertainment law matters.

Quality, Price, or Patent Lawyers?

Quality, Price, or Patent Lawyers?

With Apple and Samsung heading back to the courtroom for another round of the ever exciting Apple v Samsung patent trial, computer, software, and hardware patents have been in the news a lot lately. There have also been all kinds of patent trolls with vaguely worded patents that could conceivably cover just about anything which they use to shakedown small businesses for a quick cash handout. Several of these cases have seen their patent holders and lawyers smacked down hard in the lower courts.

Patents were originally devised with the idea of physical products that would stay in circulation for decades in mind. Computers, software, and inventions that would quickly become obsolete were never considered. After all, to a civilization just beginning the Industrial Revolution, things like the spinning jenny, the cotton gin, and power looms were extraordinary — not to mention expensive — and well beyond what anyone had dreamed up yet. It’s a little harder to believe that adding the words “on the Internet” to something people have been doing for ages (shopping, reading, talking, sending letters, etc) is enough to give someone a patent and allow them to sue all and sundry to enforce it. Even Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer fears that future competition could move from price and quality to ‘who has the best patent lawyer.’

Industrial and corporate parasites have been with us since we left the Agricultural revolution. However, if parasites are allowed to feed to the detriment of their hosts, the entire system collapses. Which is why it is, perhaps, time to consider some simple patent reforms to prevent patent trolls and patent collectors from shutting down innovation for the next several decades while the courts try to sift through the ash. Common sense measures like granting software copyright protection instead of patent protection — copyright protects a specific kind of action instead of a category of it, making it narrower and less likely that two people who came up with similar solutions with vastly different details could come into conflict. Reducing the duration of technology patents and only tech patents from 20 years to 5 years would help as well. Forcing anyone who has requested a patent to be able to provide a physical model of the product instead of just a bunch of schematics or descriptions of an idea could help as well. Finally, fining “non-practicing entities” who build and invent nothing but use their patents to shakedown small businesses would do a lot to curtail these abuses.

What do you think? Would this work? Or does it go too far? Or not far enough? Let us know in the comments below!

Wrapping Up the Week

Wrapping Up the Week

It’s been another interesting week in the world of technology. First, there’s the big story from the middle of the week about Facebook buying Oculus, the makers of the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset for gaming. Zuck’s company dropped a sweet $2 billion for this technology and its makers. Facebook has something of a habit of grabbing up the coolest things out there like that. So, everyone’s all abuzz about what’s going to happen as a result of it. Aside from that, the Aereo vs World lawsuit is wending its way through court and will determine the future of broadcast television distribution. Apple and Samsung are still duking it out in court as well. Prenda, the notorious copyright troll, got smacked down hard in court. Obama is promising legislation that will curtail the NSA’s spying. The NSA is trying to show that it’s not such a bad thing to spy like they do.

All of these stories and more were featured in our Twitter feed this week. However, if you’re not following us on Twitter then we’ll recap the highlights for you below.

That’s all for this week, everyone. Have a good weekend and we’ll see you again next week!